Drones Are Dropping Sterilized Flies Over Ethiopia to Fight Disease

Embention / Embention

Mosquitos aren't the only insects spreading disease in sub-Saharan Africa. Tsetse flies infect 10,000 humans a year with a disease known as Trypanosomiasis, which is potentially fatal if left untreated. To tackle this crisis, one Spanish company will attempt to inundate the tsetse fly population with sterilized flies delivered via drone, Motherboard reports. 

The first step of Embention's Drones Against Tsetse project involves sterilizing thousands of the male flies with radiation, leaving them unable to procreate. After the flies have been delivered to Ethiopia via drone, the team hopes the sterilized batch of insects will leave the next generation significantly diminished. 

In some parts of Africa, the impact of tsetse flies on livestock outweighs their threat to humans. Animals are vulnerable to Trypanosomiasis as well, and in a country like Ethiopia, where 85 percent of the population is employed through agriculture, infected animals can have a devastating effect on the community.

The same sterile insect technique that could relieve Ethiopia of the spread of Trypanosomiasis has also been used to fight malaria. Oxitec, a biotech company based out of Oxford, specializes in genetically modifying mosquitoes to make them incapable of producing offspring. 

If the Drones Against Tsetse initiative is a success, the same technology may be used in the future to spread sterile mosquitoes throughout Africa. Pending official approval from Ethiopia, Embention's drone should take flight above the country sometime in the next few months. 

[h/t Motherboard]